The ultimate South Island itinerary
When travelling, it is natural to want to see as much as possible and tick off all the highlights an area has to offer, but as we all know, time is scarce and the best places are often not recorded on any map. When travelling the lower South Island of New Zealand, this couldn’t be more true.
To ensure all visitors make the most of their time in this magical region, the team at Cabot Lodge have put together our dream two week itinerary with all of our favourite activities and must-see places. We’re sure this tour of the deep south will provide some serious wanderlust for those who aren’t currently able to visit New Zealand, and put this must-do trip on the bucket list of our Kiwi and Australian friends!
Queenstown and Invercargill are the two airport bases for arriving into the lower South Island. Queenstown currently has a greater number of daily flights, so we will start our travels there.
Arriving into the stunning mountain township, it becomes immediately clear that it is an adventure lover and foodies heaven. With opportunities to skydive, bungy jump, enjoy a submersible boat ride, ski, jet boat, luge, winery hop, and dine at fantastic restaurants like Amisfield, Blue Kanu and Rata, visitors can easily spend two to three nights exploring, with a must-do day trip out to Glenorchy.
Only an hour away is the equally stunning township of Wanaka, perfect for a day trip or overnight excursion - the drive over is worthwhile alone! The amazing views, Cardrona Distillery, horse riding and fresh fruit orchards ensure you will arrive into Wanaka a very happy camper ready to explore the Mt Aspiring National Park, or simply relax with a coffee in one hand and wine in the other, looking out over Lake Wanaka (we recommend the Maude Pinot Noir!)
After exploring two jewels of Central Otago, it’s time to head into the heart of Southland. A two-hour drive from Queenstown, Fiordland is the home of Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound, Milford, Kepler and Routeburn tracks, two majestic lakes, and of course the stunning landscapes of the World Heritage Fiordland National Park. The townships of Te Anau and Manapouri (15 minutes apart) offer idyllic bases to explore this area of natural wonder. Visitors can enjoy boat cruises and kayaking through the fiords, fishing in trout laden rivers depicted in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, scenic flights over snowy mountain peaks, jet boat adventures across the lakes, glowworm caves, hiking and so much more. As born and bred locals, our three favourite day trips are driving the Milford Road, hiking the Lake Marian Trail and cruising through Doubtful Sound, stopping to listen to the waterfalls crash against granite cliff faces and abundant bird life sing. Three nights in Fiordland, staying at Cabot Lodge, will leave you with many more areas to explore - but it’s a great excuse to visit again!
Then it’s down to the home of cheese rolls, Invercargill, via the gorgeous Southern Scenic Route. The two-hour drive from Fiordland to Invercargill deserves its own blog and is full of true Kiwi charm. The historic Clifden Suspension Bridge, the incredibly poignant and historic Lake Hauroko, the quaint and delightful Orepuki Beach Cafe overlooking the stunning Gemstone Beach, as well as the fishing village of Cosy Nook, where weather beaten houses sit precariously on cliff faces, are all unmissable stops on the journey. Not to mention the Riviera of the South, Riverton, and the incredible McCracken’s Rest, where you can sit and watch the edge of the world. Giving yourself a day to enjoy the hidden gems of the Southern Scenic Route is key, especially if you want to enjoy a walk through the Rakatu Wetlands.
Arriving in Invercargill you will of course need to settle in at one of the many great local cafes (Batch, The Auction House, or Industry to name a few) and get yourself a Southland cheese roll. After delighting in the cheesy goodness, Bill Richardson Transport World is a must for every visitor - and not just car enthusiasts. It is a piece of history that transports its visitors into another time. The nostalgia is palpable and the sheer volume of exhibitions to explore makes this a half day excursion at least. Then it’s time to hit the road and take the short journey to Maple Glen, one of New Zealand's most beautiful private gardens.
While you are in the deep south, a trip across to Stewart Island - either one hour by ferry or 20 minutes by flight, is a must. It is one of the few opportunities in the country to spot a Kiwi in the wild and while you’re out spotting Kiwi, take a moment to look up and enjoy the views from one of New Zealand’s five dark sky sanctuaries.
From the bottom of the South Island, it’s time to take the two hour drive across to the Catlins to explore the wildlife, waterfalls and incredible walks. The Catlins has a serious collection of stunning waterfalls, including Purakaunui Falls, McLean Falls and the Matai Falls. The sea lion colony, Cathedral Caves, and the iconic Kaka Point and Nugget Point Lighthouse are all not to be missed. For wildlife lovers, head to Curio Bay to spot both Yellow Eyed and Little Blue penguins - if you visit at low tide you can see the petrified forest that lies beneath the water. If visiting in Summer and Autumn, make sure to visit Porpoise bay to meet the pod of Hector's dolphins that reside there during the warmer months.
From the Catlins it is then only a short drive up to Dunedin. Full of amazing coffee, architecture, culture, fashion, restaurants, history and New Zealand's only castle, Dunedin is a paradise for all. Head to the peninsula to visit the albatross colony, as well as spy Little Blue Penguins, Yellow Eyed Penguins, fur seals and sea lions. For art and literary lovers, head to the amazing nearby town of Port Chalmers, a hub for artists. The university bookshop is also a must-do in Dunedin, which is a UNESCO designated City of Literature. One of our favourite beaches in New Zealand, Tunnel Beach is also only a short drive out of town - for easy access it is best to visit at low tide. If you happen to visit Dunedin on a Saturday, the Otago Farmers Market at the railway station is also not to be missed.
It is another short drive up the coast for the penultimate leg of the journey to Oamaru, with a brief stop on route to see the wondrous Moeraki Boulders. The first stop in Oamaru is of course to explore the historical Victorian precinct - especially the Grainstore Gallery and Whitestone City, before heading off to Bushy Beach to see the Yellow Eyed Penguins and the nearby Blue Penguin Colony. For those who love architecture, a visit to Forrester Gallery is also must. The Victorian fete in mid-November, makes this a wonderful early Summer getaway, and as the home of Whitestone Cheese, you won’t go hungry while visiting Oamaru either!
For the final leg of your deep south journey, drive through the heart of Central Otago, visiting the charming towns of Naseby, St Bathans and Clyde (stopping in at Olivers for a bite to eat), before arriving back into Queenstown for your flight home.
We’ve stayed here twice now. Brad and Breidi are awesome hosts! The location is stunning, the rooms are great, with epic views and the food cooked by...
Andy and Diana, Kapiti Coast, New Zealand
Spent 4 nights at Cabot Lodge. It’s a magical place. Can’t recommend it highly enough. Stunning location. Wonderfully gracious hosts.
Words fail - So I will just say thank you so much for one of the highlights of our trip - we will definitely be seeing you again
Lance & Naomi, California, U.S.A
Don’t leave home till you have seen the Cabot Lodge. Simply exceptional in all areas no more so than the family customised approach by a go ahead...
Alan L, Bangkok, Thailand
Everything was exceptional, from the food to the luscious bathrobes, to the insane views, to the crazy cute lambs.
Ashley & Mike, San Francisco
Your lodge is exceptional In its hospitality, location, beauty and décor.
Kimberley, Sydney, Australia
This is truly an amazing place in an amazing part of the country. The scenery is stunning, the accommodation luxury and the kiwi hospitality of Brad and...
Deanna C, Auckland, New Zealand
Taking the long twisting driveway from the main road you know immediately this is going to be a special place. Coming round the last bend in the drive you...
Docklander, London, United Kingdom
From the moment you arrive, you are met with the warmest welcome, Breidi and Brad are the most gracious hosts The Suites are absolutely beautiful, they are...
Angela M, Tauranga, New Zealand
My wife and I spent 2 weeks in NZ on the South Island (in the Mt Cook, Wanaka, Queensland, and Fiordland areas). All of our accommodations were at highly...
Soutine A, Texas, USA